Stephen Mark Rainey
Stephen Mark Rainey

Questions and Answers

What are you currently working on?
I'm writing a World War II historical dark fantasy novel, about a fictitious U.S. Navy fighting squadron in the Pacific. It's been on-again, off-again for the last couple of years, with various projects sometimes popping up in the middle of it. But it's something I want to do right, and since it's not on a deadline, I'm constantly digging deeper into the subject matter. I've got one draft completed and am currently working on the second. Military history -- World War II in particular -- is a favorite area of study for me, and a number of my stories feature military themes, such as "Stalker of the Wild Wind," "The Children of Burma," and "Epiphany: A Flying Tiger's Story."

Who or what has been a major influence on your writing and why?
The most obvious would be H. P. Lovecraft, since I've done so many stories in the Cthulhu Mythos, many of them for the Chaosium "Cycle" series. But on other levels, I've probably been most influenced by Ian Fleming; I read the James Bond novels many times over as a kid, and I find that his mannerisms tend to creep into my writing perhaps more than anyone else's. At the other end of the spectrum, Alexandre Dumas's THE THREE MUSKETEERS is my favorite novel in the world, and my approach to humor, when it rears its ugly head, most clearly hearkens from this. Sometimes I detect echoes of T.E.D. Klein and Fritz Leiber in my tales -- usually when I re-read them five years after I've written them.

Is there a book or story you wish you had written?
LORD OF THE RINGS, I expect. I read Tolkien in college, and the trilogy (along with THE HOBBIT) carried me away perhaps more than anything I'd ever read to that point. I absolutely loved it then (and still do) and have always wished I could construct something so huge and intricate and yet so personal and intimate. If I had written LotR, I would be very proud of the movie, too. It's a fabulous adaptation. I'm also very keen on Zelazny's Amber series (the first moreso than the second), and Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books.

Is writing your full time occupation? If not what is?
No; writing's a lucrative sideline. In general, I'm happy with this arrangement because my livelihood is not entirely dependent on what is surely one of the most fickle businesses on earth. So many writers I know take on a lot of less-than-desirable projects just to pay the bills; more power to them, but I cannot deny that I maintain mental stability better with a bimonthly paycheck from a job I enjoy, even if it's not my whole passion. This is just me personally; other writers couldn't stand the admittedly regimented lifestyle, I'm sure. Of course, there's no such thing as job security anymore, regardless of the field, but at least the business I'm in is relatively stable; I do typesetting and page layout for a publisher of educational resource books. Almost all the people I work with are former teachers, and the wealth of intellectual material I'm exposed to has certainly had a positive impact on my own writing. Regardless, when it comes down to "what I do," I am a writer first. I leave production work at the office. I never leave writing behind. Naturally, the day job eats into time I would otherwise spend writing, but life's a juggling act anyway. I've gotten fairly adept at it. Now and again, I write strictly utilitarian stuff, too, such as the manual for the online combat sim AIR WARRIOR.

As a reader do you prefer Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror?
Generally horror, but even then in small doses. I rarely read SF anymore, or even fantasy. The thing I've always appreciated in (well-done) horror is getting involved with an intense, dramatic tale that focuses on people and places one might actually know or have experienced, and suddenly something terribly bizarre works its way into the scene. Some of my favorite horror authors would be Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, M. R. James, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Matheson, Karl Edward Wagner--not to mention Poe and Lovecraft. You can deduce from this list that I prefer a quieter, more introspective style than some of the more over-the-top writers of the last couple of decades. I got more than my fill of that when I was editing DEATHREALM (from 1987 to 1997). When a horror story is bad, it's worse than just about anything, and so much of what has at times passed for "cutting edge" fiction was little more than transient, gaudy exhibitionism.

What was your first professional sale? How did it feel when you received the acceptance?
Mercy, I'm not sure I can remember. I think it might have been a story for NOCTULPA, in the 80s (if one doesn't count selling a filmbook to THE MONSTER TIMES when I was 15 years old, in 1974). The most memorable, though, was probably DEATHPORT -- the HWA anthology from the early 90s that turned out to be rather dreadful. It was my third pro sale, which meant I was qualified to become an active member of HWA. That to me was something of a landmark, and probably the moment I started thinking of myself as a real author. Despite the dismal reception that DEATHPORT received, I was reasonably satisfied with my own story, especially since it wasn't written specifically for that antho. It was just a little horror tale that took place in a hotel; when I heard about DEATHPORT, I made the setting an airport hotel and submitted it. It turned out to be one of the stories that most people seemed not to hate, heh heh. But it was certainly an exciting event for me. It paid a decent rate for a horror antho -- 15 a word, I think, and the story was fairly long. And after that, a string of pro sales followed, so despite the book being a bit of a flop, it led to bigger and better things.

When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author?
Probably before I consciously decided that I wanted to be an author, heh heh. I'd dabbled with writing and illustrating for years, ever since I was a kid. I already mentioned the filmbook ("Godzilla vs. the Thing") that I sold to THE MONSTER TIMES, which paid $35 -- damned good money for a teenage wannabe in those days. In college, I tried my hand at short stories, and in my sophomore year, I won a short-story contest sponsored by the school's literary magazine. I received $25, and the tale was published in the magazine. Later in college, I started reading Lovecraft, and the idea of writing horror stories began to firmly take root. Then, in my early 20s, my dad gave me a nice anthology of horror stories -- one of those that Martin Greenberg, Bill Pronzini, and Barry Malzberg put out. That pretty much did it. I said, "I want to write this stuff too." And not long after that, I started writing up a storm and submitting my stuff.

Are you for or against e-books?
I'm not against them; any market that can give one's work exposure and pay real money is a good market. However, I have no desire to read them myself. I like books. I like paper and ink and cloth. I've had some stuff published on the Web, on floppy disk, on CD, in downloadable .pdf format. But I will not read fiction on my computer. I have no interest in reading fiction from a hand-held electronic device. I want me books.

Are you a music fan? If so, what?
Absolutely. I usually write with music on, but at low volume, and preferably instrumental. Lyrics can be too distracting, especially when they're good -- or particularly bad. But if I'm not writing, I love getting hooked by a great song. My taste is all over the place; I listen to a lot of orchestral soundtrack music, such John Barry, Akira Ifukube, Ennio Morricone; occasional classical and neoclassical, like Hovhaness, Vaughn-Williams, Sibelius, Bartok, Albinoni, and Smetana; lounge lizard music, like bossa nova, samba, mondo exotica-type stuff -- Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Esquivel, Sergio Mendes, etc.; old schmalz, like Abba, the Carpenters, Ray Conniff, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Mann, Al Martino, and Johnny Mathis; swing, big band, and Vegas tunes -- Vic Damone, Sammy Davis, Glenn Miller, Nelson Riddle, Sinatra, etc.; assorted dark stuff, electronica, and gothic -- Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Lush, Xymox; 60s folk-revival stuff, such as the Brothers Four, the Journeymen, Kingston Trio, and the New Christy Minstrels; classical rock, like early Genesis, Jethro Tull, October Project (and subsequent November Project), Renaissance, Rush, early Supertramp, and Yes; ambient, minimalist, and surreal, like Phillip Glass, Kitaro, Ingram Marshall; modern Celtic-based stuff, like Enya, Loreena McKennett... holy cow, I could go on all night. I've got hundreds of CDs and something like 600 .mp3 files on my computer. What I listen to just depends on my mood at the time or whatever my fingers happen to pop into the player.
What I will NOT listen to is the Rap/Hip-Hop bullshit that has come to dominate the airwaves. How this shit has enjoyed such longevity is beyond my grasp. I've tried to give it a fair shake many times, but all I can come away with is "This is shit." So, I've given up the fight and settled for the fact people can dig shit if they want to, but I'm not going to. They probably figure reading horror is shit, too, and I guess that's okay.

Do you enjoy book signings/conventions?
For the most part, yes, although I haven't been to many conventions in the last few years -- largely because we've been putting my daughter through college, which has wiped the old travel budget. I have made a number of relatively small, local cons that haven't required big travel plans, and I got to New York for the Dark Shadows Festival in 1999, just prior to DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK coming out (which I wrote with Elizabeth Massie). It was at the World Trade Center, and it really was a trip to remember, all the moreso now. I've also been to a few other, smaller Dark Shadows gatherings. A couple of years ago, I made it to World Horror Con and DragonCon. Last summer I was a guest the G-Fest Godzilla Convention in Chicago, since I was once actively involved in Japanese monster movie fandom. But I miss being a regular attendee at World Fantasy Con, Necon (always a favorite), and some others. I have had a good many booksignings in the last couple of years, most of which have been enjoyable. Last month, the local Borders had a nice promotion for SONG OF CTHULHU (which I edited for Chaosium), and a number of contributors attended: Fred Chappell, E. A. Lustig, Robert M. Price, William R. Trotter, and myself.

What is the scariest story you have read?
For me, the scares came as a youngster. Both THE EXORCIST and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE did a number on me; but those are the ubiquitous answers for so many writers of my generation. What really creeped me out was when I was about ten years old; it was a Reader's Digest article about a haunted inn in London. It was called "I Don't Believe in Ghosts, But...." And the subtitle read, "There's something strange at the St. George & Dragon Inn." I don't think anything else I've read ever kept me up for as many nights as this one did. I even developed an aversion to the Reader's Digest logo for a time, just because of the association.

What gives you nightmares?

Short story, single novel or novel series - which do you think is the best medium for horror?
I like all those forms, but oftentimes the short story or novelette seems to be the most effective method of conveying a good horror tale. I've got a real fondness for many, many horror short stories, but only a few novels that I can think of.

What book are you reading at the moment?
THE SILMARILLION. Although I read THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS back in college, I never tackled THE SILMARILLION. I figured it was time to give it a go. It's really quite fascinating. I recently read a number of the James Bond books by Raymond Benson. Holy cow, talk about depressing. Bond has never been more uninspired.

Do you enjoy collaborating?
Well, I've done two collaborations with Elizabeth Massie (I'm uncredited on one for contractual reasons, apart from the dedication), and they worked out wonderfully. We developed an excellent method of alternating tasks in DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK and the same arrangement carried over well to the other book. I hope we'll get a chance to work together again sometime. Our styles are very complementary. I haven't attempted it with anyone else, though, and I'm not sure I'd be that anxious to.

Do you always know a story's ending when you begin writing?
I usually have a pretty good idea. Sometimes I write backward -- I come up with the ending first. It's often easier to build toward the conclusion that way; oftentimes the story ends up much tighter. On the other hand, sometimes a story surprises me. At the start I think I have it figured out, and then it goes off on some tangent that dictates another plan altogether. Sometimes those can be the most fun.

What's the most memorable thing said in a review of your work?
Well, it was typical journalistic hyperbole, but I kinda liked the line. It was a newspaper review of my short story collection, THE LAST TRUMPET, from Wildside: "THE LAST TRUMPET is creepy stuff...with an apocalyptic ending that makes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD pale in comparison." An exaggeration, to be sure, but it sounds nicely compelling -- especially since NotLD is one of my favorite horror movies.

Have you won any awards for your writing?
I've been recommended and nominated for Stokers several times; never won though. However, as editor of DEATHREALM, I won several awards for Best Editor.

Plug away - what do you have coming out?
Wildside has recently released my collection LEGENDS OF THE NIGHT in hardback, and it's a beautiful book. It features some of my best stories, I think. I do have short fiction coming up in DarkTales Books' DEAD BUT DREAMING, a Cthulhu Mythos anthology, and F & B Books' OCTOBERLAND, an antho of Halloween stories. And I have a novel making the rounds with publishers, titled THE LEBO COVEN. It's a book I'm very happy with, so I hope it'll find a home. And of course there's BLUE DEVIL ISLAND, which has been (and still is) a mammoth undertaking. I hope to see it get picked up when it's done. I think it's certainly the most sophisticated thing I've ever attempted.

For more information about my work, readers can visit my Web site (address below)

Many Thanks, Mark!

Relevant Links

Stephen Mark Rainey Main Bibliography
Stephen Mark Rainey's Web Site